Saturday, August 9, 2008

India Tries to Learn from China Olympics

Olympics August 5, 2008, 9:31AM EST

When it comes to infrastructure, Delhi officials say they'll prepare for the 2010 Commonwealth Games by taking lessons from Beijing
by Shantanu Sharma

The Romans did it first. Now the Englishmen are at it. When the plans were revealed for London's Olympics stadium, a "coliseum-style" setting in east London, skeptics raised eyebrows at the idea. But now, after China managed to break through the $20-billion barrier for this year's Olympics, nothing seems impossible. As a matter of fact, it seems that hosting big-ticket games is the best way for a city to shed its old skin.

According to Chinese estimates, the total amount being spent on sports facilities in Beijing is not more than $2 billion. The number of Olympics facilities being built is also not big. Most of the money is going into renovating faulty infrastructure and creating new ones. So can it be safely assumed that the games are just a catalysts for fast-forward development?

Possibly Beijing is a glaring example of it. Similarly, India's preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games is a case in point. The buzz in the administrative circles is that compared to the approximately Rs 84,000 crore that China is spending for the Olympics, India might foot a bill of not less than Rs 65,000 crore for the Commonwealth Games. And in both cases, the funds are mainly being directed towards overhauling the infrastructure.

Actually, it's not very difficult to decipher why both Delhi and Beijing require such big investments. Beijing's new infrastructure includes some of the world's most extraordinary structures. The brand new passenger terminal at the Beijing Capital International Airport, for instance, is touted to have a floor area larger than all five terminal buildings at London's Heathrow Airport. The Beijing subway expansion plan is also impressive. And the number of the sports facilities constructed for the Olympics, including the National Stadium and the National Aquatics Centre, are also modern and radical structures that could have been only built by state-of-the-art technology. And all these require money.

India, too, is not very far from pulling off a similar feat. Says Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit: "Our officials will go to Beijing. We will definitely implement all good lessons learnt from the Beijing Olympics. However, let me say that we are very much on track for the Commonwealth Games. Thanks to the Asiad in 1982, Delhi already has a solid infrastructure for sports in place. These are being refurbished. Delhi's overall infrastructure is also being upgraded with a deadline of 2010. In addition to better Metro connectivity, we will have 5,000 to 6,000 modern buses plying in the city by then."

So how much is being spent only on sports facilities then? Not much, if official figures are anything to go by. Almost half of the total money being spent will be concentrated in developing new power plants. Sports facilities would not cost a bomb. For instance, for the Commonwealth Games in the capital, it's only around Rs 2,300 crore that will be spent on developing sports facilities, of which Rs 1,000 crore will be spent for the construction of five stadiums. Delhi Development Authority (DDA) will spend Rs 465 crore for developing a Games village and another Rs 850 crore on a public private partnership (PPP) model for building residential complexes within the village.

Compare this to the mammoth Rs 20,000 crore that has been earmarked for the completion of the Metro in the capital. It might look coincidental but Beijing's subway expansion plan also aims to make what was a two-line system into the world's most far-reaching underground network in less than a decade. And it all started with the hosting the Olympics.

Closer home, Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman of Feedback Ventures, says that political and bureaucratic hurdles in the infrastructure sector get mitigated if mega sports events such as the Commonwealth Games are organised. "Today, most of Delhi's infrastructure projects, whether it's the modernisation of the airport, construction of Metro link to the airport, or the Games village—all are linked to the Games. It's a global phenomenon. Such big sports events act as a stimulus for fast-track completion of mega infrastructure projects, overcoming routine political and bureaucratic hurdles," he says.
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